Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass men’s basketball team steps up as a collective in Matt Cross’ absence

Win over George Washington is first without Cross
Jonathan Shi
Daily Collegian (2023)

One of the Massachusetts men’s basketball team’s star players, Matt Cross, has been out for three straight games with an ankle injury and a broken tooth. But as UMass continues to play without him, many players have stepped up their game to work together and persevere until he returns.

The last three games without Cross resulted in back-to-back losses to Rhode Island and Loyola Chicago, and an 81-67 win over George Washington (14-4, 3-2 Atlantic 10) on Saturday, which was the team’s first without Cross. Cross averages 15 points and eight rebounds a game, and his absence has been noticeable on the court, but many Minutemen have taken on the challenge of filling the gaps he’s left.

 “We play team basketball; we don’t lean on one guy,” Rahsool Diggins said. “Matt [Cross] doesn’t just score, Matt also rebounds, defends, so he does a lot of other things that I can’t do just by myself. Us coming together as a whole was the best thing we could do without having Matt Cross.”

Senior forward Josh Cohen has played a huge role during Cross’ absence, as he has had some of his best performances all season in the last four games. In what was an unstoppable duo for opponents to handle with Cohen and Cross together, Cohen has done his part to step up and be a leader for a young UMass (12-6, 3-3 A-10) team during this time.

In the Minutemen’s last four games, Cohen has averaged 22.5 points and 10.2 rebounds a game, including three double-doubles. In the loss to Loyola Chicago, he tied his season high with 28 points (third time) and eight rebounds. Cohen continues to be the most productive player on the team since Cross’s absence and has proven to show up big when it matters.

To replace Cross in the starting lineup, sophomore forward Daniel Hankins-Sanford has embraced his role on a new team. Hankins-Sanford grabbed 33 rebounds in his last four games and scored 10 points in three of them. He has improved his physical presence in the paint, where he has found success in being able to fight for points and secure much needed rebounds.

“Without [Cross], we’ve been trying to stay consistent there and not be a one-man band with Cohen, we needed other guys scoring in the paint…,” UMass coach Frank Martin said of interior scoring. “[Hankins-Sanford] gave us some good stuff today… he was part of that personality in the second half, he grew as the game went on. We have to keep playing on the inside, that’s what we preach, that’s what we need to do.”

The win over La Salle on Jan. 10 was the game where Cross first went out with an injury, and Hankins-Sanford quickly adapted mid-game to fill in for Cross and secured a career-high 13 rebounds. Since then, he and Cohen have worked together to keep up the intensity and physicality that Martin likes his team to play with.

Junior guard Rahsool Diggins scored a career-high 25 points in the George Washington win. After a first half where he missed seven shots, Diggins bounced back and went on a hot streak in the second, getting 18 of his 25 and nailing four 3-pointers. With five assists and zero turnovers, Diggins led the Minutemen in scoring and led the way to a much-needed victory.

Freshman guard Jaylen Curry scored 17 points, three rebounds and four assists against George Washington, just one point away from tying his career high, which he got last game in the loss to Loyola Chicago. Curry has been a productive scorer for UMass recently as he’s scored double-digit points in the team’s last four games.

“What I hope we take from this game is confidence, that we are good enough to win every game but at the same time we have to comprehend that if we don’t play in a certain way, we are good enough to lose games too,” Martin said.

As the timetable for Cross’s return to the court remains unknown, numerous Minutemen have stepped up in his place. Although not all the outcomes have gone in UMass’ favor, the Minutemen have shown that they can handle themselves without Cross against some of the tougher opponents in the A-10.

Samantha Sands can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @samantha_sands_.

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